Thus Conscience Can Make Good Indians of Us All
“During my interaction with Kaleem, I learnt that he was previously arrested in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast case and he had to spend about one-and-a-half years in prison. During my stay in jail, Kaleem helped me a lot and used to serve me by bringing water, food,etc. for me. I was very moved by Kaleem’s good conduct and my conscience asked me to prayaschit by making confessional statement.”
(Swami Aseemanand in his confessional statement to Magistrate. The statement was recorded on December, 18 under section 164 of the IPC, and is thus admissible in evidence. Kaleem, the Muslim boy, has been accused of the crime, namely the blast at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, that Aseemanand says was infact committed by Hindutva terrorists.)
I was asked the other day what kinds of people I thought to be the greatest danger to the “idea of India.” Hopelessly enough, as many in the audience must have thought, I came up with a complicated answer, contradicting the clarity that seems rampant these days.
Yet my simple point was that the answer to the question must depend greatly on how one is placed within the nation-state.
Ask the question of a Tata, a Birla, an Ambani, or those that comprise the country’s land and mining mafia, or those in politics and the bureaucracy who largely do their work, or those in the corporate media who remain busily occupied in peddling with penchant the ever-more avaricious aspirations of India’s upwardly mobile classes, or the endowed non-resident Indians impatient to do away with the uncouth habits of the masses and to pave some ten percent of the “homeland” (which they have deserted) with gold (that they may also own), and the answer you might get is left-wing extremism, trade unionism, NGO activism, wasteful social spending and so forth.
Ask the other eighty or so percent of Indians who sweat in fields, farms, factories, or vend the day for a pittance, forest-dwellers who are told not a tree, a bush, a patch of land, or a drop of water belongs to them anymore, or millions of children who rag-pick, or slave in shops or homes, who feed on crumbs and get roundly abused and beat routinely and die like flies in the cold and heat, and they might not even comprehend the question you ask, being past all conceivable danger all their wretched lives. The “idea of India,”-- what might that be? Ask those who still scavenge for a living, and get treated like lepers for their labours of keeping the rest of us clean, and they might say that the greatest danger is that they may be dispossessed even of the privileges of scavenging which keeps them just this side of starvation.
And ask the same question of India’s religious minorities, and they might say, (however denied they remain in the “developmental” concerns of the super-power-to-be), the greatest danger continues to be the prospect that the Constitution that guarantees to them, as to others, an equality of secular citizenship and the right to freely practice their faiths may yet be dethroned by a putsch from majoritarian fascists who remain to this day unreconciled to the idea of India as a pluralist space, and to the Constitution and to a system of laws which say that all citizens may be treated equally.
To wit, if for ideological convenience, the danger were to be formulated as the danger to the Constitutional regime, leaving aside for now any consideration of the quality of its implementation, such danger lurks not in one quarter but in two.
It may suit the ruler- Indian to say that such a threat comes only from the Maoist communists, but vast numbers of other Indians know, as Jawahar Lal Nehru did, that the greater threat remains embedded in the fascist politics of the Hindutva- right, since its exertions are always liable to be mistaken for sound “nationalism.” And if the first is so obvious an object for liquidation, against which every other sort of considerable Indian might easily be mobilized, the latter is more in the nature of a virus that afflicts even sound secular Indians in some nerve-end or capillary. And being a threat from the economic right, its operations are more prone to be excused, both by the corporate power-houses and by the elites who look upto them. Note how sections of India’s influential electronic media are already debating whether an Aseemanand is a terrorist or only a “zealot” after all. And how ideologues of Hindutva who never tired of dubbing terrorist acts on behalf of Muslim individuals or groups as “Jehadi Islamism,” now suddenly advise that terrorism has no colour whatsoever, despite the fact that all of the Hindutva terrorists who have thus far been nabbed or identified can be seen clad insistently in saffron robes. Or how, in contrast to the stated and proven disapproval of violent Naxalism by India’s parliamentary Left, the parliamentary BJP is out brazenly denying that Hindutva terrorism exists, or that investigations and findings in that regard are anything but a dirty conspiracy against the “nationalist” majority community. Ergo, whereas Muslim perpetrators were to be justifiably held guilty prior even to the most elementary forms of proof, their Hindutva counterparts (which is what they are) are to be thought victims of conspiracy even in the face of piling evidence and confessions made to Magistrates in the full knowledge that such confessions are admissible proof.
Here is the BJP’s problem: so long as the connections that these Hindutva terrorists bear to the RSS remained concealed, their shennagans could be attributed to misguided individuals or to “fringe groups.” But now that Aseemanand has spilled the beans on the lead role of a very senior RSS leader in the series of blasts (Malegaon 2006 & 2008, Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Samjhauta Express, Modasa, and who knows how many of the others) earlier attributed, per the Pavlovian instincts of the country’s police forces and sundry organs of opinion, to Muslim individuals and groups, there is no way that the puppet-BJP can nod in agreement.
And the Congress, as always, finds itself caught in a cleft stick: it may not be seen to be prevaricating, and it may not be seen to be anti-Hindu. It will be no exaggeration to say that the future of Indian political and Constitutional life may well depend on how the cases against Hindutva terrorists are either carried to lawful conclusions or muffled and erased.
Ever since the murder of Mahatma Gandhi by a man who belonged to the RSS, and, according to the statement made by his brother, Gopal Godse, on his release from incarceration some years ago, never left the RSS, contrary to such propagation by the RSS, this “nationalist” organization whose pioneering scions drew their inspiration explicitly from Hitler and Mussolini, has been found to be complicit by a plethora of official Commissions of enquiry in episodes of communal violence against India’s minorities. Such violence it knows is one sure way of always keeping in the foreground its racialist thesis about what ought to constitute “Indianness”. And, at the least, to keep Indian Muslims in the doghouse for as long as possible. Aseemanand, whose Bengali name is Naba Kumar Sarkar, clearly sought to carry forward, as is implicit in his confession, the tradition first unleashed by another Bengali from the nineteenth century, Bankim Chander Chatterjee, who propagated the view that not the colonizing British but India’s Muslims, descendants of the Moghuls, were the real enemies of the nation. And, after him, with theoretical support from the German Nazis, whom he praised no end, the revered RSS guru, Golwalker, in his two offerings (We, Our Nationhood Defined, and Bunch of Thoughts) wrote India’s Muslims as “Enemy Number One.”
Ironically, but understandably, Indian Muslims increasingly realize that the best course for them is not to resort to violence, (reason why in recent years most Muslim organizations of any consequence have repeatedly engaged in public denunciation of terrorism), but to invoke the promise of Indian democracy and the secular, democratic Constitution from whence it draws breath and legitimacy. It is not for no reason that Muslim vanguards have insistently said that whatever be the ignominies heaped on them both by the Hindutva camp and institutional agencies whose biases make themselves evident time after time, they stand by the rule of law. A course of thought and action which indeed, equally ironically and understandably, do not suit the Hindutva agenda, since such behaviour on behalf of Indian Muslims helps their greater assimilation into the mainstream politics of the country, and facilitates greater approval from that vast liberal mass of citizens who seek to get a leg up without frequent mayhem, however their sympathies may lie with the “Hindu cause.”
Long years ago during Nehruvain India when the secular and humanist, if not wholly socialist, ideal suffused civic and cinematic life (see Meghnath Desai’s “Nehru’s Hero), the great poet, Sahir Ludhianvi,, wrote a stirring song for a movie. In that song, an idealist Indian who has adopted an “illegitimate” love-child, seeks to dream for the future of the young one. From that song I have a minute ago on impulse translated but two stanzas as well as I could on the instant:
Such Creed as teaches hate is not yours,
Such stride as tramples the human pate is not yours,
Such temple as has not in it the Koran,
Such mosque that has not in it the Gita
Are not yours;
Yours will be the yearning for peace and harmony,
Human you were born, human you shall be.
These merchants of Creed, these traders of the nation,
These that sell the very shroud for a consideration,
Assasins and looters that reside in palaces,
Those that kill the Garden’s spring instead of its calluses,
To them your breath shall come
As the clarion of death.
Such idle sentiments then gave offence to no one, and were not censored. Keeping in mind the ugly revelations we are witness to, both with respect to the captains of the economy and the vast network of chicanery they seem to have engendered in brand India’s nook and cranny, and now with the revelations of terrorism on “this” side, how nice it would be to call a halt both to the merciless and marauding exertions of exploiters who may not leave a blade of grass in place in pursuit of profit, not to speak of the whole Niyamgiri hill, and to sectarian refusals to accept India as a garden of plural perfumes wherein not the monsters of hate belong but angels of peace, harmony, equity and conscience.
And thus I have sought on purpose to highlight in the epigraph that part of Aseemanand’s confession which relates to the stirrings of conscience. I ask, if a terrorist who set out to unleash “bomb for bomb,” could thus be affected by the power of innocence and service on behalf of the “enemy other,” and feel impelled to make atonement even at the prospect of implicating himself to a judicial sentence of death, what should this say to the rest of us. In this most noble moment of realization Aseemanand conveys a message to all of India, and indeed to the rest of the world, one that invites us to find our own humanity and, thereby, that of all others.
Ultimately, there could be no better or finer idea of India than is contained in that existential moment of redemption that Aseemanand has experienced. The question is, will this act of supreme enlightenment shame the RSS into rethinking its dodgy, abrasive and hate-filled existence and career, or will it continue to thwart and stymie the lives of some 180 million peace-loving Indians because they are not Hindus?
Indeed, after the revelations about Narendra Modi’s ubiquitous intimacy with all the murderous proceedings of the Gujarat episode of 2002, as encapsulated in the report submitted by the Special Investigating Team to the Supreme Court and scooped by the Tehelka journal, what a lasting service Modi could render to the Idea of India as a secular and pluralist paradise and a land of peace and harmony were he to take a leaf out of Aseemanand’s book and confess to his misdeeds, which after all included sheltering the key terrorists of Madhya Pradesh and Indore vintage in the Dang district of Gujarat, most of all, Aseemanand himself, and allowing free play to the carnage that happened in 2002.
Aseemanand is to be applauded on another count as well. In his letter to the President of India he has sought permission to be allowed to travel to Pakistan so that he might attempt a heart-to-heart with the likes of Hafiz Saeed with a view to bringing about in the latter a conversion matching his own.
An aspiration of profound proportions resides in that impulse, one that seeks to do nothing less than to draw the Pakistani Jihadis away from Maulana Maududi, just as Aseemanand’s own confession seeks to draw the RSS away from Golwalker to Gandhi. And this writer for one thinks that the Indian State would rise so far above its own lowly politics of antagonism should it make it possible for Aseemanand to make that trip. That endeavour in itself would constitute a transformative event, regardless of what came of it. It is when the mind weakens in its evil resolve that the sinews go limp as well.
Far from making “cowards of us all’ (Hamlet), an awakened conscience alone can change both personal and collective destinies in ways more far reaching than either realpolitik or the force of arms.
Note: A shorter version of the article appeared in Mathrubhumi Weekly as a commissioned piece.